Live review: Yard Act: ‘Britain’s second best new indie band’ well worth 9-month wait
A LOT has happened to Yard Act in the nine months since they were originally due to play Oxford and finally taking the stage at the Bullingdon on Friday. Rescheduled from January due to the pandemic, the Leeds four-piece's appearance headlining DIY magazine's Class of 22 tour was worth the wait. Such is their upward trajectory that it is unlikely you'll get to see them in such an, ahem, intimate setting once their current tour is over.
"You only play the Bullingdon twice in your career," said lead singer James Smith. "Once on the way up and once on the way down!" Although he jokingly added "it's nice to be back", there can be no doubt that this is a band on the rise - to the dizzying heights of becoming, in their own words, "Britain's second best new indie band", in a nod to Wet Leg. Their own upward momentum has seen them release the Mercury Prize-nominated debut album 'The Overload', which reached number two in the UK charts, play sets at Glastonbury and Oxfordshire's own Truck festivals, become a critically acclaimed fixture on BBC6 Music, and even collaborate with Sir Elton John on a version of their single '100% Endurance'.
The packed Bully was sold out months in advance, with disappointed punters having to shuffle away after being told there were no tickets on the door. Still, at least there's plenty of other places down the Cowley Road to keep you occupied, while those of us lucky to bag a ticket were able to feel a genuine sense of anticipation. After such a busy year, it's perhaps forgivable that the band hadn't got round to drawing up a setlist for the evening.
So it was left to the crowd to shout out requests. Kicking off with 'Payday', we were soon into full-on singalong mode, chanting along to the chorus of "take the money, take the money, take the money and run". It's their combination of sharp, biting lyrics chronicling the state of the nation, anger and humour, and banging tunes that has made Yard Act such a force to be reckoned with.
Mixing a host of influences, including US hip-hop, minimal 70s No-Wave and sharp-witted British indie, they are riding the current wave of enthusiasm for spoken word for all it's worth. 'Tall Poppies' is interrupted halfway through by Smith's observations on the merits of Neapolitan pizzas versus the new Detroit variety. And the same track takes a major detour when Smith goes into full confessional/rant mode to launch into the cost-of-living crisis and the impact on his family life of constant touring.
Was it impromptu or part of the act? Who knows? Either way, it was genuinely moving listening to him pour his heart out.
He is that type of frontman - a potty-mouthed motormouth and provocateur, but dry as a bone and deadpan funny. The oft-mentioned description of the 'd***head singer' of the title track from 'The Overload' is pretty spot-on. 'Peanuts' features another unexpected and touching moment when an audience member recites the spoken word segment of the song, and barely puts a foot wrong.
The female voice giving it a whole new dimension. They encored with 'Dark Days', the title track of their debut EP, and another anthemic belter. Then farewells, house lights, cheers.
Back out on to the Cowley Road. To quote their track 'Dead Horse', "the last bastion of hope this once-great nation had left was good music". Amen to that.